More farmers switching to organics

The allure of high organic prices has become irresistible for some growers.

Industry representatives say 2015 was a fantastic year for Canada’s organic grain sector with the number of new producers jumping substantially.

“I’ve done more inspections for new, transitioning growers in 2015 than I (have) in many years beforehand,” said Stuart McMillan, an organic inspector in Manitoba.

“It is existing, conventional farmers (moving to organic).”

Canada’s organic industry doesn’t have hard numbers to support McMillan’s observations because organic statistics are often unreliable or two years out of date.

However, other people in the industry have witnessed a similar trend.

“It’s probably somewhere between a 20 and 30 percent increase in the number of people telling us that they’re in transition (since January 2015),” Laura Telford, an organic business development specialist with Manitoba Agriculture, told an organic workshop held during Manitoba Ag Days in Brandon Jan. 21.

An increase in the number of producers represents a turnaround for Canada’s organic sector, which lost hundreds of producers from 2009-12.

“We think it’s between 20 and 40 percent of organic producers (on the Prairies) left in the three years of the recession,” Telford said last year.

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In 2014, industry leaders developed a strategy to win back the dropouts and attract new entrants: promote the profitability of organics.

Organic grains and oilseeds have been double or triple the price of conventional grains over the last few years, thanks to robust demand in North America.

According to Alberta Agriculture, organic grain prices in December were:

•    Brown flax: $38 per bushel (364 percent higher than conventional)

•    Oats: $7 per bu. (246 percent higher)

•    Milling wheat: $20 per bu.

The high prices are having an effect, and many have decided that organic is worth the effort.

“I would characterize them (people transitioning to organic) as conventional farmers who have crunched the numbers,” McMillan said.

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“If you look at the numbers, even marginal cropland can make (for) a very positive bottom line.”

The meeting room for the Brandon workshop was packed, another sign that conventional producers are considering the three-year transition to organics.

“I think economics is the driver, but it’s not the only one,” Telford said.

“There are lots of (producers) in Manitoba experimenting with lower input costs and cover crops.”

Organic numbers on the Prairies

Canada had 3,513 organic farmers in 2013.
On the Prairies:
Alta.     279
Sask.    764
Man.    124
Anecdotal evidence suggests there has been an increase since 2013, but organic data is typically two years out of date.
Source: 2015 World of Organic Agriculture

Contact robert.arnason@producer.com

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  • Sofa king

    Sure people will get in again and probably overproduce…draw the price down and get out again because it is easier to throw money than time at the problem. Those chem farmers should just keep doing it until they are broke.:(

  • Guest

    Yes, the organic price for wheat is good. More people are switching to organic crops. But consumers are also using more organic foods. Well done organic food growers! Seems like the organic market will be good going into the future.

  • ed

    Yes Organic production is good for the planet and it’s occupants. It will ultimately prevail. This will cut medical health care costs by 75-90% which is another relatively large expense for the tax paying consumers. The total cost to people is far less under Organic production.

  • Dayton

    Farmed over 25 years organicly. Hasn’t ever hurt our bottom line.

  • Rob Bright

    Year after year we see increased demand for organic. Not surprising, given that people are more and more concerned about where their food comes from and simply cannot trust the biotech/agrochemical industry to come clean on their so-called ‘science.’ People are smart enough and wary enough to avoid their toxic, chemical laden foods and are choosing healthier, more sustainable alternatives.

    • Denise

      Well said, Rob.
      Now that farmers can see a way to reduce their input costs, protect the environment and people at the same time, and still make a profit, we could all come out of this as winners.
      Here’s another toxic pesticide that doesn’t get as much attention as glyphosate and its adjuncts but we shouldn’t forget about its bad effects,either.
      ecowatch.com/2016/04/26/atrazine-hormone-disrupting-pesticide/

  • Denise

    This is not an”us against them “argument. We all have families that we want to give the best start in life, we possibly can, and leave the world a better place for them and future generations.
    The agro-chemical companies and biotech industry are in it for the money, power, and control. That’s it! They will pull any strings (lobby governments), twist the truth,omit and alter testing methods (daring to call it science) to achieve their goals.
    Once the farmers wake up and realize they are being fleeced and manipulated, we have an opportunity to slow down and hopefully reverse the damage being done to our land, waterways,and nature’s inhabitants(that includes people).